Blog search results for Tag: plastic

Materials

Our SCI journal, Polymer International is celebrating it’s 50th publication year in 2019. Volume 1, Issue 1 of Polymer International was first published in January 1969 under the original name British Polymer Journal. The journal, published by Wiley, continues to publish high quality peer reviewed demonstrating innovation in the polymer field.

Today, we look at the five highest-cited Polymer International papers and their significance.

Biodegradable Plastic

Article: A review of biodegradable polymers: uses, current developments in the synthesis and characterization of biodegradable polyesters, blends of biodegradable polymers and recent advances in biodegradation studies – Wendy Amass, Allan Amass and Brian Tighe. 47:2 (1998)

In the last few years, much of environmentalists’ focus has been on our plastic waste issue, particularly the issue of plastic build up in the oceans, and searching for alternatives. This review, published in 1998, was ahead of its time, describing biodegradable polymers and how they could help to solve our growing plastics problem. Research in this area continues to this day.

Here’s how much plastic trash Is littering the Earth. Video: National Geographic


The life of RAFT

Article: Living free radical polymerization with reversible addition – fragmentation chain transfer (the life of RAFT) – Graeme Moad, John Chiefari, (Bill) Y K Chong, Julia Krstina, Roshan T A Mayadunne, Almar Postma, Ezio Rizzardo and San H Thang. 49:9 (2000)

This research article by Moad et al., published in 2000, looks to answer questions about free radical polymerization with reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT polymerization). RAFT polymerization is a type of polymerization that can be used to design polymers with complex architectures including comb-like, star, brush polymers and cross-linked networks. These complex polymers have application in smart materials and biological applications.


Sugar Biomaterials

Article: Main properties and current applications of some polysaccharides as biomaterials – Marguerite Rinaudo. 57:3 (2008)

 sugar polymers

Biomaterials made from sugar polymers have huge potential in the field of regenerative medicine

The review by Marguerite Rinaudo looks at polysaccharides – polymers made from sugars – and evaluates their potential in biomedical and pharmaceutical applications. They concluded that alginates, along with a few other named examples, were promising. Alginate-based biomaterials have since been used in the field of regenerative medicine, including would healing, bone regeneration and drug delivery, and have a potential application in tissue regeneration.


Supramolecular Chemistry

Article: Supramolecular polymer chemistry—scope and perspectives – Jean-Marie Lehn. 51:10 (2002)

This 2002 paper reviews advances in supramolecular polymers – uniquely complex structured polymers. They have a wide range of complex applications. Molecular self-assembly – the ability of these polymers to assemble into the correct structure without input – can be used to develop new materials. Supramolecular chemistry has also been applied in the fields of catalysis, drug delivery and data storage. Jean-Marie Lehn won the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in supramolecular chemistry.


Flexible Screens

Article: Organic lightemitting diode (OLED) technology: materials, devices and display technologies – Bernard Geffroy, Philippe le Roy and Christophe Prat. 55:6 (2006)

 OLED

Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology could be used to make flexible screens and displays

This review looks at organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, which can be made from a variety of materials. When structured in a specific way, these materials can result in a device that combined in a specific red, green, blue colour combination, like standard LED builds, can form screens or displays. Because of the different structure of the material, these displays may have different properties to a standard LED display including flexibility.


Sustainability & Environment

‘Biodegradable plastics have become more cost-competitive with petroleum-based plastics and the demand is growing significantly, particularly in Western Europe, where environmental regulations are the strictest,’ says Marifaith Hackett, director of specialty chemicals research at analysts IHS Markit. The current market value of biodegradable plastics is set to exceed $1.1bn in 2018, but could reach $1.7bn by 2023, according to IHS Markit’s new report.

In 2018, the report finds that global demand for these polymers is 360,000t, but forecasts an average annual growth rate of 9% for the five years to 2023 – equivalent to a volume increase of more than 50%. Western Europe holds the largest share (55%) of the global market, followed by Asia, and Australia and New Zealand (25%), then North America (19%).

 

Here’s how much plastic trash Is littering the Earth. Video: National Geographic

In another report released in May 2018, the US Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) was similarly optimistic, finding that the bioplastics sector (biodegradables made from biological substances) is at ‘a growth cycle stage’. It predicts the US sector will outpace the US economy as a whole by attracting new investments and entrants, while also bringing new products and manufacturing technologies to make bioplastics ‘more competitive and dynamic’.

As bioplastics product applications continue to expand, the dynamics of industry growth will continue to shift, the report notes. Presently, packaging is the largest market segment at 37%, followed by bottles at 32%. Changes in consumer behaviour are expected to be a significant driver.

 bucket in water

Many countries, including China and the UK, have introduced plastic waste bans to tackle the problemImage: Pixabay

Changes in US tax policy, particularly the full expensing of capital expenditure, should support R&D in bioplastics,’ says Perc Pineda, chief economist at PLASTICS. ‘The overall low cost of energy in the US complements nicely with R&D activities and manufacturing, which generates a stable supply of innovative bioplastic products.’ He points, for example, to efforts by companies and collaborations to develop and launch, at commercial scale, a 100% bio-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle as a case in point. Most PET bottles currently contain around 30% bio-based material.



Sustainability & Environment

Images of turtles trapped in plastic packaging or a fish nibbling on microfibres pull on the heartstrings, yet many scientists studying plastics in the oceans remain open-minded on the long-term effects.

While plastics shouldn’t be in our oceans, they say there is still insufficient evidence to determine whether microplastics – the very tiniest plastic particles, usually defined as being less than 1mm in diameter – are actually harmful.

 turtles

It is estimated that over 1,000 turtles die each year from plastic waste. Image: NOAA Marine Debris Program

On top of this, there is debate over how much plastic is actually in the sea and why so much of it remains hidden from view. Much of the research carried out to date is in its early stages – and has so far produced no definitive answers.

‘My concern is that we have to provide the authorities with good data, so they can make good decisions,’ says Torkel Gissel Nielsen, Technical University of Denmark (DTU). ‘We need strong data – not just emotions.’


Searching the sea

 Plastic shopping bags

Plastic shopping bags can be degraded into microplastics that litter the oceans. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Gissel Nielsen leads a team of researchers who discovered that levels of microplastics in the Baltic Sea have remained constant over the past three decades, despite rising levels of plastics production and use.

The study – by researchers at DTU Aqua, the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Geomar, Germany – analysed levels of microplastics in fish and water samples from the Baltic Sea, taken between 1987 and 2015.

‘The result is surprising,’ says Nielsen. ‘There is the same amount of plastic in both the water and the fish when you go back 30 years.’ He claims that previous studies of microplastics levels were ‘snapshots’, while this is the first time levels have been studied over a longer period.

 microbeads

The UK introduced a ban in January this year of the sale and manufacture of products containing microbeads. Image: MPCA Photos 

‘The study raises a number of questions, such as where the plastic has gone,’ he says. ‘Does it sink to the bottom, are there organisms that break it down, or is it carried away by currents? Some is in the sediment, some is in the fish, but we need to find out exactly how much plastic is there.’

In the study, more than 800 historical samples of fish were dissected and researchers found microplastics in around 20% of them. This laborious process involved diluting the stomach contents in order to remove ‘organic’ materials, then checking the filtered contents under a microscope to determine the size and concentration of plastics. It illustrates the difficulty of quantifying plastics in any sample, says Gissel Nielsen.

‘You must remove the biology to get a clear view of the plastics,’ he says.


River transport

canoe gif

Originally posted by flyngdream

Just as rivers supply the sea with water, they also act as a source of pollution. Researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany, found that 10 large rivers are responsible for transporting 90% of plastic waste into the sea.

The team collected pre-published data on plastics in rivers and collated it with upstream sites of ‘mismanaged’ plastics waste – municipal waste that is uncollected.

‘The more mismanaged plastic waste there was, the more you found in the river,’ says Christian Schmidt, UFZ. ‘There was an empirical relationship between the two.’

 The Yangtze river

The Yangtze river (pictured in Shanghai, China) is the main polluter of plastic in the ocean in the world. Image: Pedro Szekely/Flickr

Eight of these 10 rivers are in Asia, while the other two are in Africa. All of them flow through areas of high population.

‘Countries like India and China have seen huge economic growth – and now use large amounts of plastic food packaging and bottles – but have limited waste collection systems,’ he says. The data include both microplastic and ‘macro’ plastics – but microplastics data dominate ‘because scientists are more interested in that’, says Schmidt.

Plastic Ocean. Video: United Nations

While it is important to measure how much plastic is in the environment, Schmidt believes that the next step of his research will be more important – understanding the journey the plastics make from the river to the sea.

For all the uncertainty and debate over how much plastic is in the sea – and what harm it can do – one thing is clear. Future research is likely to focus more on the plastics that we can’t see, rather than the items we can.

 

Sustainability & Environment

Images of turtles trapped in plastic packaging or a fish nibbling on microfibres pull on the heartstrings, yet many scientists studying plastics in the oceans remain open-minded on the long-term effects.

While plastics shouldn’t be in our oceans, they say there is still insufficient evidence to determine whether microplastics – the very tiniest plastic particles, usually defined as being less than 1mm in diameter – are actually harmful.

 turtles

It is estimated that over 1,000 turtles die each year from plastic waste. Image: NOAA Marine Debris Program

On top of this, there is debate over how much plastic is actually in the sea and why so much of it remains hidden from view. Much of the research carried out to date is in its early stages – and has so far produced no definitive answers.

‘My concern is that we have to provide the authorities with good data, so they can make good decisions,’ says Torkel Gissel Nielsen, Technical University of Denmark (DTU). ‘We need strong data – not just emotions.’


Searching the sea

 Plastic shopping bags

Plastic shopping bags can be degraded into microplastics that litter the oceans. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Gissel Nielsen leads a team of researchers who discovered that levels of microplastics in the Baltic Sea have remained constant over the past three decades, despite rising levels of plastics production and use.

The study – by researchers at DTU Aqua, the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Geomar, Germany – analysed levels of microplastics in fish and water samples from the Baltic Sea, taken between 1987 and 2015.

‘The result is surprising,’ says Nielsen. ‘There is the same amount of plastic in both the water and the fish when you go back 30 years.’ He claims that previous studies of microplastics levels were ‘snapshots’, while this is the first time levels have been studied over a longer period.

 microbeads

The UK introduced a ban in January this year of the sale and manufacture of products containing microbeads. Image: MPCA Photos 

‘The study raises a number of questions, such as where the plastic has gone,’ he says. ‘Does it sink to the bottom, are there organisms that break it down, or is it carried away by currents? Some is in the sediment, some is in the fish, but we need to find out exactly how much plastic is there.’

In the study, more than 800 historical samples of fish were dissected and researchers found microplastics in around 20% of them. This laborious process involved diluting the stomach contents in order to remove ‘organic’ materials, then checking the filtered contents under a microscope to determine the size and concentration of plastics. It illustrates the difficulty of quantifying plastics in any sample, says Gissel Nielsen.

‘You must remove the biology to get a clear view of the plastics,’ he says.


River transport

canoe gif

Originally posted by flyngdream

Just as rivers supply the sea with water, they also act as a source of pollution. Researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany, found that 10 large rivers are responsible for transporting 90% of plastic waste into the sea.

The team collected pre-published data on plastics in rivers and collated it with upstream sites of ‘mismanaged’ plastics waste – municipal waste that is uncollected.

‘The more mismanaged plastic waste there was, the more you found in the river,’ says Christian Schmidt, UFZ. ‘There was an empirical relationship between the two.’

 The Yangtze river

The Yangtze river (pictured in Shanghai, China) is the main polluter of plastic in the ocean in the world. Image: Pedro Szekely/Flickr

Eight of these 10 rivers are in Asia, while the other two are in Africa. All of them flow through areas of high population.

‘Countries like India and China have seen huge economic growth – and now use large amounts of plastic food packaging and bottles – but have limited waste collection systems,’ he says. The data include both microplastic and ‘macro’ plastics – but microplastics data dominate ‘because scientists are more interested in that’, says Schmidt.

Plastic Ocean. Video: United Nations

While it is important to measure how much plastic is in the environment, Schmidt believes that the next step of his research will be more important – understanding the journey the plastics make from the river to the sea.

For all the uncertainty and debate over how much plastic is in the sea – and what harm it can do – one thing is clear. Future research is likely to focus more on the plastics that we can’t see, rather than the items we can.

 

Sustainability & Environment

"We don’t each have to become paragons of virtue – just a simple change or two that we can easily make into new habits will help to make a difference for the future of our blue planet."

Careers

plant gif

Originally posted by thereefuncovered

As another phenomenal Sir David Attenborough-narrated nature documentary draws to a close, many in the UK will be wondering what to do with themselves. The long-awaited Blue Planet II brought viewers on an enchanting journey through the oceans, with jaw-dropping photography capturing this hidden world, from the darkest depths to coral reefs and coasts.

In the final episode, we met Dr Jon Copley, who is Associate Professor in Ocean Exploration & Public Engagement at the University of Southampton. Jon was scientific advisor for Episode 2 (The Deep), which included providing some of the footage shown of deep-sea vent animals, from NERC research projects he was involved with. 

 Dr Jon Copley

Dr Jon Copley pictured during the Blue Planet II expedition to the Antarctic. Image: Jon Copley

Jon also took part in a month-long shoot in the Antarctic, which was shown in the incredible opening of The Deep episode, where Jon and his fellow researchers travelled in a minisub 1km deep into the Antarctic ocean

We caught up with Jon to find out about the real-world benefits of exploring our oceans, why communicating science matters, and more.


SCISome 16 years after the first Blue Planet series was broadcast, viewers were given the opportunity to visit the deep Antarctic ocean in Blue Planet II. What are the challenges in sending a manned craft to the deep Antarctic?

JC: We’ve actually had the technology to explore the Antarctic deep sea with human-occupied vehicles for several decades – Cousteau went there in the early 1970s with his ‘flying saucer’ minisub, which had a depth limit of 400 metres.

But dives by human-occupied vehicles depend on a fairly narrow window of wind, sea, and ice conditions. So the cost of sending such technology to the Antarctic can be a gamble – there’s a risk of not getting many suitable days for sub dives.

 

Fortunately, better information from satellites monitoring wind, sea, and ice conditions throughout the area allows more careful and adaptive planning of operations – and we depended on that during the Blue Planet II expedition. By being able to choose dive targets in more protected areas, there were only a couple of days when conditions prevented us from launching the subs. And of course the experience and professionalism of the ship’s crew and sub team were key to that success.

SCI: What are the real-world benefits of exploring the deep oceans?

JC: We can learn from the ingenuity of nature in the deep ocean – for example, an antifreeze protein now synthesised to improve storage of ice cream products comes from a deep-sea eelpout fish; materials scientists are investigating the damage-resisting properties of the shell of the ‘scaly-foot snail’ (a new species that I was co-author in describing) to design better crash-helmets, body armour and pipeline protection; there’s a new treatment for early-stage prostate cancer based on the light-sensitive behaviour of bacteria from the ocean floor; and possibly even eye drops in development to treat night blindness, from studying how dragonfish hunt in the inky depths.

 nighthunting dragonfish

Eye drops inspired by the night-hunting dragonfish are under development to prevent night blindness. Image: Marcus Karlsson

SCI: What can we do in our daily lives to protect our oceans, and what role does industry have to play in this?

JC: We don’t each have to become paragons of virtue – just a simple change or two that we can easily make into new habits will help to make a difference for the future of our blue planet. Those changes can be things like carrying your own drinks mug with you instead of needing single-use cups, or getting the ‘sustainable fish app’ from the Marine Conservation Society to help to decide which fish to eat.

But it’s more challenging where our everyday lives are more connected to the oceans than we realise. For example, an average family car produces around 40 milligrams of microplastics per kilometre from tyre wear, and some of those microplastics inevitably end up in waterways and the ocean. So a public transport policy that gives people real alternatives to personal car use, in terms of cost and convenience, is also a policy for a healthy ocean. And employers who support teleworking where possible or appropriate are also actually supporting a healthier ocean.

car gif2

Originally posted by alex-eugen

Industry can play a vital role for ensuring healthy oceans by innovating products and processes that give us real choices and alternatives to old ways of doing things that we now know have an impact on the oceans.  And I think we’re starting to see that there is real consumer demand for those choices and alternatives.

SCI: You co-founded SciConnect, a company to train scientists to share their research with the wider public. Do you think that scientists are more conscious today of the importance of communicating their science to a broad audience – and is the public more engaged with science?

JC: Being able to share specialist knowledge with people outside your specialism is essential for scientists to work with colleagues in different disciplines, interact with people in other roles across organisations, report to stakeholders and clients, inform policymakers and practitioners, engage with the media, inspire the next generation – if anything, it’s a more common activity in most scientific careers than just sharing research with peers in your own field. So I think that scientists today are very aware of the value of developing the underlying skills for all those applications.

But it’s a set of skills that are not routinely taught by experienced practitioners as part of scientific training, which is why I co-founded a company to do that, with colleagues who work day-to-day in science communication as writers, broadcasters, and presenters, and who have backgrounds in science so that they appreciate the needs and perspective of those they are training.

Fundamentally, engaging people with your research involves understanding your target audience – for example, the approach that you would take to inform policymakers about the consequences of a research finding is different to how you might try to inspire young people’s interest in science through your work, which makes us realise that there isn’t really a homogeneous ‘public’; outside our own area of specialism, we’re all members of ‘the public’ when it comes to finding out about research in another field.

turtle gif

Originally posted by davignola

SCI: Now that the Blue Planet II is over, how would you recommend bereft viewers fill the void?

JC: There are some great ways for anyone to continue pursuing their interest in marine life – for example, there’s the Capturing Our Coast project, which is building a nationwide community of volunteers who get together to survey shores, which helps to monitor changes in distributions of species around the UK. 

The University of Southampton also runs a free ‘Massive Open Online Course’ about Exploring Our Oceans, which covers the history, science, and relevance of the oceans to our everyday lives. It’s not a formal course, so there aren’t any exams, and no science background is required – just an interest in finding out more about our ocean world.


So, there you have it – from crash helmets to cancer treatments, exploring the deep allows us not only to learn more about the blue planet, but to improve life for us landlubbers, too! 

If you’re interested in learning about how our water and waste is analysed and treated, SCI’s Environment, Health and Safety group is running this event at our London headquarters in March 2018. Early bird fees available until 30 January